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Government/Politics

Texas Lawmakers Mull Bill Boosting Foster Care Training

Rep._Cindy_Burkett.jpg
Courtesy cindyburkett.org
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AUSTIN — Amid a recent rise of youngsters in foster care who have died across Texas, the Legislature late Monday began mulling a bill that would require 35 hours of training for potential foster care parents — more than double what some are now required to have.

The House Human Services Committee heard the proposal by Republican Rep. Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale. Its members left the bill pending rather than approving it on for a full floor vote, but there was little opposition voiced.

Cheered by advocates, meanwhile, Burkett’s bill would mean a stricter foster-care screening process while increasing training for would-be parents on topics such as first-aid, behavior intervention and trauma care.

Texas already requires 35 training hours for foster-care parents recruited by state authorities, but only mandates 16 hours of training for potential parents retained through private contractors.

Burkett said the private requirements rank among the lowest in the nation. “We want to establish a minimum of standards,” Burkett said. “Best of intentions are not enough.” Her bill would also require that private firms make their foster care training programs public, and that state officials keep track of “best-practices” among private training programs and publicize those for others to learn from.

Though there was no criticism of Burkett’s proposal during Monday evening’s hearing, some have expressed concern that the already difficult process of recruiting foster care parents could get even harder. Burkett said her bill would exclude cases where children’s relatives become their foster parents or adopt them.

Foster parents already in the process of being trained would be exempted from the more strenuous standards. In fiscal years 2013 and 2014, 13 children died in the foster care system — up from the deaths of two youngsters in fiscal year 2012.

Testifying before the committee, Ashley Harris of the advocacy group Texans Care for Children, called for promoting stable, long-term living environments for foster care children, who she said are too often shunted from home to home.

“Along with providing funding to reduce caseloads for overworked (state) staff,” Harris said in a statement, “this legislation represents one of the most important steps the Legislature can take to make sure these vulnerable children are placed in safe, supportive homes.” (AP)